When I was a teenager, I read a lot of horror novels. To be more specific, I read a lot of classic 1970s-90s British splatterpunk fiction. These were mostly novels by Shaun Hutson and James Herbert, but I read other authors too (although, regrettably, I didn’t really discover Clive Barker until I was a bit older).
Although I don’t really write anywhere near as much fiction (or horror) as I used to, I credit reading these horror novels with really getting me interested in writing.
In fact, if I hadn’t found a cheap secondhand copy of “Assassin” by Shaun Hutson on a market stall in Stafford when I was about thirteen, my life may have gone in a very different (and much less creative) direction.
If you’ve never heard of “splatterpunk” fiction before, Wikipedia defines splatterpunk fiction as being a sub-genre of horror which is: “distinguished by its graphic, often gory, depiction of violence”. Which, to be honest, is something of an understatement.
I would have said that splatterpunk novels are the written equivalent of modern horror movies like “Saw 1-7” and “Hostel”. But, they’re not. They’re a hell of a lot more imaginative, a hell of a lot more shocking and, let’s face it, a hell of a lot more rebellious – for the simple fact that they are not tainted by the mainstream sensibilities of modern Hollywood.
(In short, if you want proper horror – then get out of the cinema, put down your DVDs, turn off your games console and start reading some old splatterpunk novels.)
Although the word “splatterpunk” was apparently only coined in 1986, splatterpunk fiction has been written since at least the 1970s. In fact, I’d personally credit James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats” with starting this amazing sub-genre of horror fiction.
Yes, I’ve regrettably matured a bit since my days as an aspiring teenage splatterpunk author. But horror (especially splatterpunk) is still a genre that is very dear to me. And, as a genre which has taught me so much about writing, I thought that I’d share one technique which all of the old splatterpunk novels used to use in order to keep their readers interested from the very second that they picked up the book.
Any self-respecting splatterpunk novel (from the time before vampire romances and Stephen King novels filled the horror shelves of almost every bookshop), always started in the same way.
Before the prologue – even before the copyright notice and the title – they would always start with a short extract from the middle of the story.
There wouldn’t be any characterisation or even really any introduction, it would just be a single page from the middle of the book where something grotesque, ominous and/or menacing happened.
The more grotesque, the better.
Don’t ask me why, but this works.
If I had to guess, I’d say that it served as a filter of sorts. Readers who are interested in more genteel types of fiction would probably slam the book down on the shelf with disgust and move on, whereas people with interesting tastes in fiction would probably want to read even more.
Not only that, unlike a prologue (which is designed to make the reader feel curious enough to want to read more), these short extracts also gave the discerning teenage horror connoisseur an idea of what to expect and whether the book was worth reading or not.
Books with extracts that mostly focused on unseen menacing things lurking in the background were probably not that interesting and books where the very first page was practically soaked in blood were worth buying.
Yes, I guess that the decision to use this technique was probably taken by the publishers rather than the authors themselves, but it works. So, if you’re writing a horror novel and planning to self-publish it – then it might be worth making sure that the first thing that your readers see is an extract from the creepiest and most horrific part of your story.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂